Simple Checkpoints

Lane Armey

With many percussion rudiments, finding appropriate checkpoints to monitor timing can be extremely useful—more so as velocities increase or during rudiments that change the dominant hand (5-lets for example). Putting your focus on these checkpoints can help keep you in time and ensure that your brain doesn’t get overloaded with information.


An easy example is sextuplets. Younger percussionists especially can get caught up in all those black notes on the page. Working your hands to get six notes into each beat can be physically and mentally draining.

Always start a rudiment at a very slow tempo, one in which you can focus on every single beat. With sextuplets this tempo might be 60 beats per minute (bpm). But as the tempo increases to 90 bpm, your focus should gradually shift to focus on the eighth note pulse that is inherent when playing sextuplets. Now you are primarily focused on only two of those six notes, which will help you line up with your metronome (which should also be set to eighth notes).

Duple-Based Rolls

A similar example is duple-based rolls, where the focus becomes more “big picture” on hitting regular checkpoints as you speed up. Please don’t mistake this strategy for ignoring your inner beat sound quality. Just make sure to establish that sound quality at the slow tempos and maintain it as you gradually shift focus to regular interval checkpoints.

5-lets and 7-lets

I find this method extremely useful for working on 5-lets or 7-lets. My brain is not good at all at counting repeatedly to 5 or 7! But I do know that each successive time I play beat one, it is off the opposite hand. Targeting my focus on these alternating hand downbeats keeps me in the groove without giving me a headache.

Complex Rhythmic Passages

When working on complex exercises or musical passages, particularly with over-the-bar-line rhythms, find some clear checkpoints early in your learning process. Highlight them, and figure out which foot you are on if marching or marking time. Make sure to hit those checkpoints on the correct foot 100% of the time. Use this method as a great first step toward playing the entire passage in time.

About author

Lane Armey

Lane Armey is the battery percussion coordinator for Homestead High School in Cupertino, Calif. In the past, he has worked with various groups including Northwestern University and the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps.

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